For the first three years of our marriage, my husband and I had the perfect egalitarian household. We made all our financial decisions together. And we never argued over housework; we simply paid others to do it. A cleaning woman scrubbed our apartment, the laundromat down the street washed our clothes, and Manhattan’s vast array of eateries cooked most of our meals. (Our ketubah actually mentions the importance of take-out menus.)
That all changed with the birth of our daughter Rachel two years ago. I quit my job as a magazine editor and overnight became the one thing I’d swore I’d never become: a housewife. (My mother still talks about the time I was six years old and I announced I’d have a househusband). These days, I do well over 50% of the housework and earn no paycheck. Not exactly a feminist’s dream.
And yet, I feel fulfilled and liberated. Most of my time is spent doing the same things that women before me have done for centuries, but I’m lucky enough to be doing this by choice. It also helps that on an average weeknight, my husband often makes or orders dinner—we still use those take-out menus a lot—gives Rachel a bath, cuts her fingernails, changes at least one diaper and reads her bedtime stories. Still, he tends to feel a bit like a hero for doing all this hands-on fathering, since his friends do less.
The initial decision to quit my job turned out to be easier than I’d anticipated: The day I quit my job, I changed out of my suit, put on my comfy “mommy” clothes—jeans and a sweatshirt—and happily threw out the perfectly good pair of pantyhose I’d been wearing. Two days later, panic set in. I felt like I’d thrown away a professional identity I’d spent years cultivating. How could my husband possibly have the same respect for me that he’d had when I had a career? Would he still consider me his intellectual equal?
Those fears turned out to be unfounded. My husband has watched with apparent fascination as I’ve taken all the energy I once applied to my career and channeled it into my new role. I will go back to my career, but for now, the challenges at home are as stimulating as the ones I faced in my office. Although I no longer earn a paycheck, my husband and I continue to share all our financial decisions. He and I discuss everything together, but he treats me like an expert on a lot of family matters. And because I’m the expert, my vote carries more weight.
I still feel we have an egalitarian household, though my definition of it has changed a lot. Where I once felt equality was defined by the division of labor in the home, I now see it as a question of power. Of course, as any parent of a two year old knows, that makes Rachel the most liberated person in our house.
Heidi Gralla is a freelance writer living in New York.